“Chicago blues just has a thing about it. It just gets down harder than other types of music. There is something about Chicago where the Mississippi roots are always showing, while at the same time it’s been adapted to the city’s location that is its home.”
These are the words of Bob Corritore who says his life changed when as a boy he listened to Muddy Waters records. Soon after, Corritore’s instrument of choice was the one played by Muddy’s partner Little Walter. When he grew tall enough, Corritore followed the music from the North Side ’burbs to the city’s South and West clubs. The drinking age was 19 in the 1970s when the aspiring harmonica player with a fake ID and relentless zeal gained entry to the world of the blues.
“It was a spectacular time,” Corritore said. “I was a sponge taking in everything I could. I I couldn’t believe people were giving me the time of day, let alone letting me be the apprentice as they lectured me.
“So many artists were still growing. Sunnyland Slim was still putting out new records. Louis Myers kept growing as a guitar player and he also played all the great stuff he had played in the 1950s. He was one of those great students of the music in every way.”
John Primer made the scene, too. A gifted guitarist, he played in a Junior Wells band at a South Side club called Theresa’s. He later played with James Cotton and Magic Slim and the Teardrops. He famously played in Muddy Waters’ last band.
Corritore left Chicago for Phoenix where in the 1980s he played with bands such as the Blues Connection and Janiva Magness and the Mojomatics. He teamed up with Louisiana Red at the Purple Turtle club, which Corritore took over in 1991, changing the name to the Rhythm Room, a still-thriving Southwest destination venue.
Corritore has collaborated with so many artists, in fact, it is a surprise he had never played with fellow Chicago native Primer. Never, that is, until now. On April 16, Delta Groove Music released John Primer and Bob Corritore “Knockin’ Around These Blues,” 10 tracks of blues as deep as Lake Michigan and as intense as the Hawk wind.
Primer and Corritore had a studio session after a weekend playing the Rhythm Room. The first song they did was “The Clock,” which is the album’s opening tune. The driving recording was the only take needed. Fresh arrangements of Little Walter’s “Blue and Lonesome,” Howlin’ Wolf’s “Just Like I Treat You,” Lightnin’ Hopkins “Goin’ Back Home” and (Corritore mentor and “father figure”) Robert Lockwood’s “Little Boy Blue” from that first of three sessions wound up on the record.
“We weren’t taking any prisoners,” said Corritore, who immediately set his sights on making an album. There was a Chicago session and a final get-together in Phoenix in February.
“John knew we had done something really great but hadn’t heard any playbacks,” said Corritore who asked Primer, ‘What do you think?’
“You know”, Primer answered, “There’s some natural playing right there. This is a good one.”
The players on the record are prominent Chicago bluesmen.
Barrelhouse Chuck was in on each session. A nominee for the 2013 Blues Music Award’s Pinetop Perkins Piano honor, Barrelhouse Chuck played and studied with Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Blind John Davis and, oh yeah, Pinetop Perkins. Corritore first worked with Barrelhouse Chuck last year on Mud Morganfield’s “Son of the Seventh Son.”
Morganfield is the oldest son of Muddy Waters, whose longtime drummer was Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Smith’s son, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, played on three “Knockin’ Around These Blues” tracks. “He’s a slightly different player but he has a lot of elements of his dad in there,” Corritore said. “Kenny right now is probably the greatest Chicago blues drummer around.”
Guitarist Billy Flynn has recorded with numerous Chicago greats, including Snooky Pryor, and now Primer and Corritore. “The guy is so deep in so many different styles that he can call upon at any point and time,” Corritore said. “At the same time he’s egoless, so he’ll play just the backing part but he does have a nice solo on the ‘Cairo Blues.’ ”
Chris James came to Chicago in the 1980s after Corritore had moved away, but they worked together on this album. James and his bassist partner Patrick Rynn played on seven of the tracks.
Primer is the lead singer and has a style reminiscent to that of Muddy Waters, but the esoteric Corritore hears Eddie King.
“There’s a language that goes on with Chicago blues that is unique to that subgenre of the blues,” he said. “So much of the Chicago blues has a definite leader but it is a very conversational music. Muddy Waters would lead it with his vocals, and the second leader, the co-star of that, would be the harmonica, Little Walter, James Cotton, and there were all these fantastic guitar and piano parts that went with it.”
Today’s blues, even in Chicago, is mostly driven by guitar. Primer’s musicianship on the guitar is as good as it gets, but the music on this record features the entire ensemble, an interactive call-and-response celebration of Chicago when it ruled the world of the blues. With “Knockin’ Around These Blues,” the reign resumes.
John Primer and Bob Corritore, ‘Knockin’ Around These Blues’
Release: Tuesday, April 16
Label: Delta Groove Music
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